A Conversation With Ari Goldman of Choice Collectibles: Comics, Art and Pop Culture

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Stan Lee at an autograph session with Ari Goldman of Choice Collectibles

As you all know, I love comic books, certain types of art and entrepreneurs. So it made perfect sense when I was asked to speak with Ari Goldman of Choice Collectibles. We will both be at New York Comic Con this week(end) so be sure to stop at the Choice Collectibles table!

What made you want to manufacture and sell fine art?

As cliché as it may sound, I love art and I love pop culture. I've always been fascinated by the intersection of the two. As comic books and animation brands like Disney, Marvel, Warner Brothers, and others began to become more mainstream in the American psyche, I knew that someone had to give these image-driven worlds the attention and beautiful presentation they deserved. The opportunity to share the sophistication behind seemingly simple artistic concepts, like, for instance, the three circles that create the outline of Mickey Mouse's head onward towards dozens of artists' versions of Mickey Mouse throughout history (including Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, and Damien Hirst) has been a passion of mine from the beginning. Being able to contribute to that sophistication through producing innovative projects that elevate these iconic brands in a more robust way has been downright riveting.

What or who is Choice Collectibles?

Choice Collectibles merges the excitement of pop culture into the beauty and sophistication of fine art.

If you could pick one or two pieces of artwork that best represent the company's offering and type of product you sell which items would those be and why?

Given that we cover such a wide range of pop culture themes and properties, it is hard to pick just two, but if you held my feet to the fire, I would have to go with two pieces that coincide with major early developments in the company.

First, there is a particular Snow White original production cel (used in the actual production of the original 1937 animated movie) that really sticks out in my mind. I started buying and selling animation cels over 20 years ago and the beautiful Snow White piece has always been one of my favorites (not to mention one of the rarest). Next, I would say one of our Origins Marvel Covers (a limited edition giclee on canvas print) signed by Marvel legend Stan Lee. I've had the privilege of working with Stan for many years both in a business relationship and a wonderful friendship as well. As the publisher of Marvel Fine Art, I think that these covers--particularly the "Origins" that feature cover images from the first appearances of iconic characters--are especially apt because they are one of many examples in which we ensure our art elevates the brand from a collectible concept to resounding fine art.

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Ari Goldman

Tell us about your first big licensing deal. When did it happen, who was it with and how do you think that has affected the business today?

Marvel was our first major publishing deal, and, although we've been licensed retailers of virtually all the major pop culture properties for quite some time, when we got the publishing license almost four years ago, it enabled us to really be in the driver seat and steer the fine art production to a place of even greater value and provenance. It opened us up to our massive international distribution and paved the way for us on other licenses we now are working with, including 50 Shades of Grey, video game art licenses, and much more to come in 2016.

What are your greatest personal achievements outside of Choice Collectibles?

Together with a few of my closest friends I flew to Haiti and built three homes for the families struggling through the turmoil and poverty there after the devastating earthquake in 2010. We covered every expense from our flights to the nails we used to build the homes.

Although I was there to give, I also took a lot from that trip as far as experience and insight go. To see the people still finding a way to be so grateful for what they had in spite of so much hardship... it really was amazing. I'll never forget their grateful smiles. Everyone was helping one another. That kind of positive attitude has been very influential in shaping the culture at Choice Collectibles. Attitude, teamwork, and mentorship are hallmarks of what we are trying to do and I think that experience really helped focus me to that end. I'll be back in Haiti in January to do a similar trip as well.

What's your favorite piece of art ever and why?

Picasso's Le Rêve, The Dream. I love Picasso and the concept of "The Dream". The beautiful artistry is magnificent on its own, but for me, the concept of dreaming--of thinking what could be instead of what is; of thinking big picture and imagining how to get there -- that certainly is something that resonates with me as an art lover and a business owner.

What is the hottest property this year and what do you think it will be for 2016?

Heading into the end of 2015, few things can top Star Wars. Force Awakens is going to be an absolute smash and the fanfare around it has been ferocious. In 2016, The Avengers will once again dominate pop culture. Marvel's "Civil War" blockbuster pitting Iron Man against Captain America is going to be extremely exciting. The idea of brothers in arms fighting against one another can be a very complex notion and we are all eager to find out how that will play out.

Additionally, 50 Shades of Grey fever continues to heat up worldwide. Next year, we will be rolling out the first-ever fine art editions based on the hugely popular books alongside our friends in the pop culture art world, Clampett Studios. They are phenomenal partners and this ambitious project has moved along beautifully.

As far as specifics, I can't release too many details about that yet, but I can say that to represent the sexiness and characters of the 50 Shades of Grey series, we have teamed up with author E.L. James and world-renowned mixed-media fine artist Raphael Mazzuco, both of whom will be signing the brilliant limited editions. We are pumped.

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One of Ari Goldman's achievements. Stay fit and keep healthy!

Thinking shorter term, what's new that you'll show at New York Comic Con?

We have new art from Tim Rogerson, whose cubist-inspired work takes on the Marvel characters including Spider-Man, Venom, and many of the Avengers. This makes for booming colors and brilliant details in a format any fan will love. Of course, we will also feature brand new Star Wars art from the Force Awakens, even though details about the movie have been kept airtight. It is going to be awesome.

Please tell us what you do for fun, outside of work.

It's funny really. I feel extremely blessed because when I have time off, I like to travel, something I am constantly doing as part of work anyway. Even more ironically, my favorite thing to do when traveling is to go see art. As far as that goes, Italy (the city of Florence in particular) is my favorite place to visit. The history is so deep, museums so fascinating, and art so powerful-- it is an art lover's dream. Plus, the yummy food certainly does not hurt!

Anything else you'd like to tell us about?

I have a mentor; he's one of the biggest art dealers in the world. His lessons have helped me for over a decade. Despite his massive success, I know he would prefer to stay somewhat anonymous. I would be remiss if I did not take some time to acknowledge him. My mentor's tutelage has enabled me to share his sage lessons with my team, particularly a young man, Ben Berman, that I brought on in the last year-and-a-half to help the company take a leap in the right direction. Ben's addition to the team has been nothing short of spectacular and has taken us to the next level. He shares the same dream I do (Picasso would be proud) and has helped instill our aspirations into the fabric of the company to much success. At Choice, we have always been fans and entrepreneurs, but, now, having our whole team working as a "business family," we have really put together some major wins. In short... we have started our greater ascension upward, but the best is on its way.